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Peru Declares State of Emergency in Rioting Province

Francesca Martens |
July 11, 2012 | 9:06 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

Cajamarca's  Yanacocha Lake in 1992 (left) and to the right, its current state after Newmont Corp. drained it in 2006. (Google Images/ Creative Commons)
Cajamarca's Yanacocha Lake in 1992 (left) and to the right, its current state after Newmont Corp. drained it in 2006. (Google Images/ Creative Commons)
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a 30-day "state of emergency" in the northern Peruvian state of Cajamarca following an outbreak of riots on July 3.

The violent protests left 21 civilians injured and three dead. 

Bloomberg reported that the measure comes one week after Newmont was cleared to once more resume operations which were halted back in November following extensive rioting. Incensed Cajamarcan residents rioted and destroyed Newmont mining installations during six days of protests. 

The Conga Mines project has been a source of conflict since the project was first green-lighted by the Peruvian government back in 2010.  Cajamarca residents erupted in anger as they claimed that the environmental impact report presented by Newmont Corp. to get the project approved was careless and lacked a serious scientific approach. To make matters more complicated, the person who approved it was Felipe Ramirez del Pino, the General Director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines who previously held high-level positions in Newmont Projects.

The main point of contention in the project was its plan to drain four high-altitude lakes that the Cajamarca residents, mostly farmers and ranchers, use as water sources for their families, crops and livestock. 

According to El Mercurio, Cajamarca's most circulated newspaper, lakes Azul and Chica would be used as dumpsters for over 480 billion tons of mining waste.  The other two, El Perol and Mala, would be drained in order to attain the copper and metals found in both lake beds. 

In response, Newmont Corp. through its Peruvian subsidiary, Yanacocha, promised to build reservoirs to replace the natural lakes, but residents refused this solution citing that these reservoirs would only fill with rainwater and would require continuous and expensive maintenance which for a region that last year was named the poorest in the country, would be unfeasible.  

In response to the Cajamarca residents' claims, President Humala hired a team of impartial foreign consultants to re-examine Conga's environmental study report. The consultants validated the report, but added certain recommendations that President Humala said Newmont Corp. must meet.  The latter, through its Peruvian subsidiary, Yanacocha, agreed and announced it would funnel an extra $102 million, in addition to the proposed $4.8 million, in order to implement the environmental recommendations which included preserving two of the four lakes in question and giving locals hiring priority over foreign workers. 

In spite of these concessions, the Cajamarca Anti-Mining Collective staunchly reasserted their opposition.

"Our position is that we won't cede another centimeter to these mining corporations, they have caused us too much harm already," said Edi Benavides, President of the Defense Front of Bambamarca (one of the provinces affected). "Conga won't ever work."

In a special supplement titled: "Por qué Conga no va" (Why Conga won't work), the Regional President of Cajamarca, Gregorio Santos, added that "with 18 years of mining activity already present in the Cajamarca region, the people's basic necessities have yet to be met: malnutrition and infant death rates are still sky-high (…) the people's experience has always been that the riches go and the poverty remains."

On July 6, The Gestion journal reported that President Humala asked the Peruvian Catholic church to mediate between the central government and the anti-mining groups in Cajamarca. Church representatives swiftly accepted the proposition and set about choosing delegates. 

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported, Newmont Corp. remains hopeful:

"We renew our commitment to Cajamarca and to our faith in dialogue as a bridge to achieve understanding between everyone."

On July 9, the church's delegation headed by Trujillo Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos arrived in Cajamarca to initiate dialogue.


Reach Executive Producer Francesca Martens here. follow her here.



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